Truffle butter is a decadent and delicious compound butter that’s fabulous on a variety of dishes, from topping steak or a baked potato, to tossing with hot pasta, or just slathering on a slice of homemade bread. Our panty contains a variety of truffle products from truffle oil and truffle carpaccio to truffle zest and truffle salt. There’s something about the aroma of truffles that is incomparable to any other. Just a little bit of truffle essence elevates so many dishes.
I was fortunate to be able to visit Piemonte a few years ago, experience a truffle hunt, and learn all about truffles. My love of truffles was solidified when I visited one particular restaurant in Venice in 2022, and had the most memorable fresh pasta with shaved truffles. (This post was originally posted on January 8th, 2013)
In fact, this pasta dish was so delicious, I ended up going back TWICE more over the following year and a half. It’s just that incredible. It’s the truffles!
What are truffles?
A lot of people think that truffles are part of the mushroom family, but they’re not. They belong to their own species of tuber melanosporum, and are a fungus of sorts. While mushrooms grow above ground, truffles grow underground.
Truffles have spores, and those spores are what create more truffles. Cultivating truffles is a fine art, because the spores must stay in the ground in order for new truffles to emerge, the truffle hunter has to carefully extract the truffles while leaving the spores.
This is part of the reason truffles are so expensive. There are several types of truffles, summer truffles, winter truffles, both white and black.
Where are truffles harvested?
Truffles are native to southern Europe. France, Spain and Italy have the largest harvest, but truffles can also be found in parts of Croatia.
They thrive under oak, hazelnut, chestnut, elm and poplar trees, I had a great experience at the winery I visited in Piemonte had a grove of hazelnut trees under which the truffles lay. Hence they offered wine, hazelnut, and truffle products. You can read more about Slow Food in Piemonte in this post.
Why are truffles so expensive?
There are several reasons why truffles are so expensive.
- First of all, they’re only found in a few places and require a particular micro climate.
- Secondly, they grow beneath the ground, which means they’re difficult to locate. Truffle hunters spend decades honing their skills.
- Harvesting must be done by hand, or risk damaging the delicate truffles. They must be carefully extracted, and the dirt must be brushed off on site so that the spores stay in the vicinity.
- Because truffles are so valuable, many truffle hunters work at dusk, or in the evening in order to keep the locations of their truffles a secret.
- They have a short shelf life, losing their flavor within days. Once they are unearthed, they must be properly stored.
How to store truffles
Many years ago a friend of mine received a whole white truffle in a velvet box for the holidays. He called me in a panic wondering what he should do with this very expensive gift. A studio exec had given him a it to him as a gift. “It came in a small container, on a bed of rice…and I have to change its ‘diaper’ every day!” he told me. Fortunately it came with “care” instructions!
- Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
- White rice in the container will help absorb any moisture.
- Use within five days. The flavor diminishes with each passing day.
What’s the difference between black truffles and white truffles?
Italian white fresh truffles are the most sought after and expensive. They are found in the Langhe region of Italy. They are a lovely finishing touch to fresh pasta, risotto, or on eggs. Because the flavor of truffles diminishes when heated, white truffles do not need to be cooked. They are also more expensive than black truffles. At this writing, a one ounce fresh truffle sells for $260.00!
Black truffles are considerably less expensive, though not a “budget” item by any means. They are also best sliced paper thin over pasta or risotto, but can withstand slightly more heat, which brings out their earthy aroma.
When is truffle season?
Black winter truffles are harvested from November to March, peaking at the end of January to February. There are also black summer truffles which are less expensive and are harvested from May through August. While boars were once used to hunt truffles, dogs are mostly used because they’re easier to train and are less likely to damage or eat the truffles.
Fortunately there are also several different products that will impart a truffle flavor without the high cost. In our pantry, we have truffle oil, truffle carpaccio, black truffle slices, truffle salt, and truffle zest. I use black truffle slices for this truffle compound butter.
How to make black truffle butter
A whole truffle is expensive, so how can you enjoy this luxury without breaking the bank? Truffle butter! A small pat of truffle butter is delicious on a fresh Baguette, mashed potatoes, pasta, poached eggs. It is perfect on top of a seared steak, or on a Charcuterie Board. As always, the quality of products will make a big difference.
This homemade truffle butter recipe is simple, just butter and truffle pieces. While I use a good quality unsalted butter for every day cooking, for this recipe, I like to use a European-style butter for truffle butter.
I usually prefer unsalted butter, because I like to control the amount of salt in the dishes I make. In this instance, I don’t mind a lightly salted butter. If you can’t find a European butter, choose the best butter you can afford. Truffle slices which are packed in oil, work perfectly.
- 8 ounces softened butter
- 3 Tablespoons truffle slices, minced
- kosher or sea salt if using unsalted butter.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter until light and fluffy.
Add minced truffle and salt (if using) and mix just until blended.
Form butter into a log on parchment paper, twisting ends. Chill until firm.
How to store truffle butter
Because of the delicate flavor of truffle butter, it can easily pick up the flavors in your fridge. Wrap the parchment in foil or plastic wrap to prevent the butter from picking up any strong scents.Truffle butter will keep for up to a week in the fridge.
- Whip butter in a mixer until light and fluffy.
- Finely chop black truffles.
- Blend truffles and butter. Adjust seasoning with salt if needed.
- Form butter into a log and wrap in parchment paper, or press into ramekins. Season with sea salt if using unsalted butter.
- Store well wrapped in refrigerator for up to a week.